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One of the unsung gems of New Hampshire's Monadnock region, little Swanzey Lake is well-loved by those lucky enough to live along its shoreline. The lake was created from a natural, spring-fed pool by damming the outlet of Swanzey Pond in the late 1700s. A succession of small mills utilized its water power over many years, helping the Town of Swanzey to grow into a thriving residential community. Located less than 10 miles south of Keene, the pond contributes its waters to the mighty Ashuelot River via the many brooks and seasonal springs in the area. The lake is entirely private except for the small park and swimming beach open to local residents only.
Settled early in the nation's history, many small farmers and early industrialists put down roots in the Monadnock region. Records of the area are sketchy, but an-out-of print book describes the building of the first dam across Swanzey Pond in 1780 and the resulting power used for the manufacture of sickles. A succession of mills followed the first, all for the purpose of the manufacture of goods to be sold locally. No discussion of the resulting Swanzey Lake is found, but the lake itself apparently became a residential neighborhood soon after. By the early 20th century, the lake served as home for several camps for children, at least one of which still exists as a commercial camping facility. Two campgrounds now co-exist at Swanzey Lake: one is a Christian-centered camp with facilities for youth, families and group retreats, and the other is a shaded commercial campground complete with electrical hook-ups, camp store, boat rentals and planned activities.
Richardson Park is a municipal recreation site open only to local residents. A sandy beach with buoyed swim area for children and a lifeguard join a fishing pier and car-top canoe and kayak launch to provide the best in recreational opportunities for area residents. However, anyone in the area can take a leisurely walk around the entire lake on the road that encircles it. The walk is about 2.5 miles, mostly shaded and with limited, local traffic-a particularly attractive hike when the leaves turn colors in the fall. Several of the homes on the lakefront are rented regularly on a short-term basis to vacationers, allowing a precious bit of public enjoyment of this secluded lake. Most of these vacation rentals also include a boat or pontoon for the use of their guests. Jet skis are not allowed on the lake, and although it doesn't appear water skiing is prohibited, it seems most area residents enjoy slower forms of boating such as canoeing and kayaking. A swimming area open to the public is located in North Swanzey at Wilson Pond.
Fishing is a popular activity at Swanzey Lake, with smallmouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, American eel and bullheads all present. A designated trout lake, both brook trout and rainbow trout can be caught; special regulations are in place and should be checked by any aspiring anglers. There is no information on the availability of ice fishing, but the area is certainly in demand as a winter get-away. Several ski areas are located nearby. Swanzey and the Swanzey Lake area are exceptionally popular among nature lovers and those seeking to view and photograph the many covered bridges in the area.
Seven of New Hampshire's prettiest covered bridges are located in the Swanzey area: the Slate Covered Bridge built in 1862, Carlton Covered Bridge-1789, Thompson Covered Bridge-1832, and the Cresson Covered Bridge (originally built in 1770 and replaced in 1859) are all located near Swanzey. The County Covered Bridge-1937, Ashuelot Covered Bridge-1858 and Coombs Covered Bridge-1837 are located a short distance away. Inns and bed & breakfasts in the area often advertise weekend specials complete with maps for touring all of the covered bridges in the area.
One activity that can include viewing at least one of the bridges is to hike the West Swanzey portion of the Ashuelot Rail-Trail while enjoying the natural vistas afforded from the abandoned railroad right-of-way. The trail runs 21 miles from Keene to Winchester and is open in part to mountain biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Prospective users are advised to check on trail conditions before starting out, because not all sections are equally accessible to all activities. Several snowmobile clubs in the Keene area work together to keep snowmobile trails groomed in winter and invite other snowmobilers to join them on the trails.
With the college town of Keene nearby, there are a variety of outdoor activities scheduled year-round. Several marathons and half-marathon races occur each year. One of the better known is Elijah's Race, a 13.1-mile loop that travels through four of the famed covered bridges in the area. The City of Keene offers such attractions as the Cheshire Children's Museum, Colonial Theatre, Cheshire Rail Trail, and the family-friendly college baseball team, the Swampbats. Keene also features several youth-oriented 'watering holes', popular restaurants and specialty shopping.
Lodgings of all types are found in the Swanzey Lake area. In addition to private vacation rentals at the lake, there are numerous campgrounds in the area, along with several bed & breakfasts, quaint inns, major hotels and friendly guest cottages. Hundreds of acres of natural scenery are available to roam nearby at Pisgah State Park. Canoeing portions of the Ashuelot River is possible by utilizing the services of a number of canoe or kayak rentals nearby. Real estate is available, both on the lakeshore and in nearby areas. Although rural, the Swanzey Lake area has good highway access to most of the major cities in New England and can be easy to get to for an afternoon or a weekend visit. So, bring the camera and the walking stick. Swanzey Lake and Cheshire County's covered bridges await.
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